Pregnancy And Maternity Discrimination

According to the Equality Act of 2010, receiving unfair treatment at work because you are pregnant, you are breastfeeding or have recently had a baby is against the law and may be considered discrimination against your pregnancy and maternity . It is also unlawful for you to be treated unfavourably due to a pregnancy-related illness or a past pregnancy.

Under the Act you also cannot be denied your entitlement to 52 weeks pregnancy leave. Whether you are permitted to receive maternity pay or not will depend on your worker status. Treating you unfairly because you wish to take maternity leave constitutes discrimination.

Understanding What Constitutes Unfavourable Treatment In The Workplace

Unfavourable treatment basically means putting you at a disadvantage only because of your pregnancy and maternity. This includes:

  • Retracting training or promotion opportunities
  • Reduction of pay or working hours
  • Redundancy or dismissal on grounds of pregnancy
  • Failure to carry out risk assessment in environments where there are inherent health and safety risks to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby
  • Pressure to resign

Understanding Your Rights In The Workplace During Pregnancy And Maternity

You are protected from discrimination from the time your employer knows that you’re pregnant. Making you redundant due to your being pregnant, maternity leave or any reason related to pregnancy or childbirth is automatically considered unlawful discrimination.

You are under no obligation to formally inform your employer about your pregnancy until the fifteenth week before your baby’s due, when you have to give notice that you are to take maternity leave. There is a caveat to this though – aside from the fact that you cannot hide your pregnancy as it advances, it is advisable to inform your employer early on in your pregnancy so that the necessary processes may be put in place to protect your health and safety. Once your employer has been informed about your pregnancy you are legally protected against unfair treatment, unfair dismissal and any discrimination due to your pregnancy so you should not hesitate only because you are afraid of the repercussions of disclosure.

During the ‘protected period’ you are always entitled to both the same facilities and benefits as other employees who are on par with you. The protected period commences at the beginning of your maternity leave and ceases when maternity leave finishes or at the time you get back to work.

When your leave finishes, you are entitled to go back to your previous job and position that you held before you went on leave. If that is not possible at the end of your 52 weeks maternity leave then you must be offered an appropriate alternative if there is one available. You do not need to apply for this.

Failure to consult you about possible redundancy while you are on your maternity leave could well be considered unlawful discrimination.

If your employer serves you a dismissal notice at any time while you are pregnant, the notice should include detailed reasons for your dismissal in writing. In the absence of a written explanation, it is automatically assumed that the dismissal is related to the pregnancy and is considered unlawful. Failure to provide ‘good reason’ for your dismissal is also automatically considered discrimination. In either case you can certainly take a complaint to a tribunal and you could be awarded up to 2 weeks pay in way of compensation.

Absence from work due to pregnancy related illness should not be taken into account for disciplinary matters or redundancy. Absence due to pregnancy related sickness should be recorded separately from absence due to any other reasons.

You are entitled to have reasonable paid time-off for your antenatal care and antenatal appointments. You cannot be forced to schedule your appointments only outside of working hours. However in order to ensure that your frequent absences do not cause too much disruption in the workplace, it would help to give your employer as much advance notice as possible.

You cannot be refused assignments or have your workload reduced on grounds of pregnancy. It is also illegal to assign you particularly difficult projects in an effort to get you to resign. You should receive the same responsibilities, workload and salary as other workers holding the same portfolio as you in the same office.

Note On Workplace Risk Assessment While You Are Pregnant

There is a clause in the Act that requires employers to carry out appropriate workplace risk assessments if some of their employees are women of childbearing age. Employers are also legally required to take reasonable steps to protect both your health and your safety and that of your baby.

For example if you are finding it difficult to stand for long periods of time because of your advanced pregnancy, your employer must provide you with a suitable work space where you can sit down more frequently or take extra rest breaks.

If sitting down or taking extra breaks are not feasible, your employer must provide suitable alternative work on similar conditions and terms. If there is no suitable work available, you would be entitled to have a suspension with full pay.

If you have any concerns about your health and safety at work, you should discuss it with your GP or midwife, and if necessary, get a letter to show your employer.

Filing A Claim For Discrimination Against Pregnancy And Maternity

If you’ve been discriminated against, you might indeed want to do something about it, and you certainly can. Filing a claim for maternity and pregnancy discrimination is slightly different from sex discrimination claims in that you do not have to compare yourself to how any other colleague may have been also treated under similar circumstances. Instead, you must be able to prove that if it were not for your pregnancy, you would not have been treated less favourably or dismissed.

There may be some circumstances in which you think that you could have been discriminated against because your employer assumed you were pregnant or believed you were trying to get pregnant, for example, after a miscarriage or during ongoing fertility treatment. To file a successful claim, you would need to be able to prove that the treatment was pregnancy-related and hence you are entitled to claim compensation under pregnancy and maternity discrimination.